Stiles met a professor of philosophy once as a boy. He’d talked about the interconnectedness of all things as Stiles shined his shoes. Working the cloth back and forth, he listened to the man ramble on about the complex web that connects every living thing; every choice, every action and inaction, all woven together to form the brief moment we’re living in. Stiles had thought he’d sounded very smart, at the time, but he supposed he could be forgiven for that. He’d only been seven after all.
He knew better now.
The heat of day means nothing to the cold of night. Suffering of the poor means nothing to the gluttony of the rich. Hunger of children means nothing to the wasted earth. They are not weighted together. The professor was wrong.
Nothing is connected, least of all people.
Six men rode in the empty boxcar. One had introduced himself as "Pastor Stewart," the title immediately being disregarded by everyone else, and an old timer introduced himself as Ralph.
No other names were given as they settled in for a long, miserable ride to the next Texas town.
Stiles, tucked into his dusty little corner with his old newsboy cap pulled low, knew better than to hope for sleep in the hotbox of a train car. He thought a calm ride shouldn't be too far out of reach, though.
Unfortunately, he was wrong.
“It’s already loud, hot, and uncomfortable in here, Stewart, don’t make it worse on all-a us by preachin’ your horseshit.”
Honestly it was so loud that voices were barely understandable, so Stiles didn’t know why Ralph was bothering. Stewart could harp on about how America had earned its current state of hardship through transgression for the next hour, and be easily ignored. Except that now he was yelling.
“- sins of booze and sloth and sodomy-!!”
Scotch, slack, and suck jobs, Stiles thought. They never got more creative than that. You’d think Hell would try harder to come up with new sins if they were so intent on dragging everyone down. Then again, maybe Hell was too busy creating ways to bring itself up to humanity instead.
“Aw, shut the hell up,” Ralph talked over Stewart, a sweat-temper evident on his lined face, white hair damp at the temples. “Yer lot already got yer damned prohibition. And if we-all ‘re so slothful, then what’re we doin’ out here lookin’ for work? Everything's so God damned miserable. If a fella can find a minute to shoot the works, he ain’t hurtin’ nobody. He ain’t Hoover.”
Stiles stole a look in Ralph’s direction. He was an old man. Much older than most of the men riding the rails to look for work. Old enough to voice dangerous opinions that would easily get younger men beaten. He should have been living his last few comfortable years at home, surrounded by family. Instead, he was here with the rest of the dirty, desperate souls.
“Damnation!! The ways of the sodomite will bring damnation!!” Stewart continued to squawk, thumping his Bible so hard that Stiles worried for its binding. Ralph's old, tired face took on a contemptuous look.
"Guess you never got to the part about 'judge not lest ye be judged', huh?"
Stewart took an aggressive step forward, and Stiles sat up a little straighter.
Stewart raised his Bible, and Stiles tensed his thighs.
Then Ralph opened his mouth again.
"It's okay Preach, the nelly's won't tell a body you welched on yer reading."
Stiles shot up and grabbed Stewart's arm before it came down, just barely holding it back from crashing the heavy book over Ralph's head. Stewart stumbled back as though he’d been electrocuted, wrenching his arm from Stiles’ grasp.
"Sorry about that, Stew,” Stiles said calmly. “Must’ve built up a static charge from all the wind. Why don't we take a little break?" He looked steadily at Stewart, making it clear that it wasn't actually a suggestion. "It's been a long ride, but we'll be there soon. We should all just take a little break."
Stewart looked flabbergasted, cradling his arm where Stiles had touched it. Stiles wanted to roll his eyes. The shock hadn't been that strong. Still, Stewart nodded his head a little, eyes fearful, and went to sit back down on the dirty floor, opening his bible and muttering along with the passages. Ralph took a minute longer. Eventually he reached up and clumsily patted Stiles on the knee before leaning over and laying his head on his little bundle of home. Once Stiles saw him close his eyes, he finally looked up at the rest of the car.
They all avoided his gaze. Stiles sighed, and went back to his corner.
About an hour later, the train finally began to slow. Someone pulled the door open, and all six men watched the dry, brown landscape pass with a mixture of relief and apprehension. Ralph had warned them all at the beginning of the ride that the train yard guards at this station were particularly vicious, and that it was best to get off early.
A lone rider from the back who'd slept most of the way was the first to jump. The train was almost moving too fast to risk it, but apparently he knew what he was doing. They watched him roll and miraculously pop up off the ground before they lost sight.
Stewart was next, pushing his way to the front and saying a prayer before leaping. He fell awkwardly, but didn't holler or stop moving altogether, so he'd be fine too.
"We'd best be gettin' off before the water station," Ralph said, repeating his warning from earlier. Without another word the other two riders jumped, disappearing behind a dune of prairie dust. Stiles hoped it cushioned them a little.
Stiles gestured to Ralph next, who looked a little bemused.
"Age before beauty," Stiles joked. Ralph gave him a tired little smile.
"Alright, alright." Ralph jumped, and Stiles followed right after, bindle strapped to his back as he tried to keep his balance from the momentum of the train. The air whipped around him forcefully as he leapt, drawing a shiver from his sweat-damp body. He managed to stumble on his feet as he landed, and soon his eyes were sweeping around, concerned as he looked for Ralph.
Relief lit through him when he saw him twenty yards away, upright. Well, mostly upright.
"Ralph!" Stiles called as he jogged over. "Hey, how's your landing?"
Ralph had his hands on his knees, bent over as he breathed slowly and heavily.
"Ah, these damn old bones'a mine. Never thought I'd get to seventy and be ridin' like this. Thought I'd have a ticket at least," he groaned.
Stiles kept his hands to himself, not wanting to encroach on Ralph's space.
"Where are you headed? You want some company?"
Ralph took another minute to breathe through his old aches and then straightened up.
"I'm prob'ly just headed to the tent city for tonight. See if Red Cross got anything for an old man t'eat. Tomorrow I'll head up 'n see if anyone needs an experienced dirt farmer." He ended his statement with a wry twist of his lips. "Where're you headed? Don't you got any connections, kid?"
Stiles just shook his head.
"No connections. Just headed for work. If there is work."
Pity flashed across the old man's face before it could be hidden. Stiles tensed, but the old man didn't drag it up.
"Well, you better help a geezer out then. Maybe the Cross'll have a piece of bread for us both."
The tent city was the same as others Stiles had seen. Same as the ones he'd stayed in before.
The more permanent residents were toward the center, with shanties made of old wood and rusted aluminum. Transients hung around the edges in their tents and tarps. As the darkness grew, fires lit up here and there, chasing away the coming chill.
When they arrived at the Hooverville, it was only a few minutes before Ralph spotted another old timer. He greeted him with a blue streak and a grin, immediately getting lost in reacquaintance. Stiles slid away while he was occupied, assured that the old man would be fine with some canvas over his head tonight.
Stiles himself didn't actually have a tent. He had a bit of tarp and some rope, but false walls were mostly useless. The sky was cloudless anyhow. It was always cloudless these days, unless you count clouds of dust.
Still, as the sun disappeared entirely, Stiles munched on the stale bread that the Red Cross had indeed been able to give him, and wandered around the camp. He stayed away from the family fires, not wanting to make mothers and children nervous. He gave the rowdy groups a pass too.
Towards the outskirts of the camp, he saw a little fire that looked inviting- until he recognized the first jumper from the train earlier. Stiles hesitated. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the back of the man's jacket flutter in the dead air, a shift of bulk where there should be none. He looked up and briefly met Stiles' eyes before quickly looking away.
Stiles moved on.
Eventually he came to a fire with a quiet bunch standing around, hands either in pockets or stretched out toward the heat. Stiles considered for a moment, before snapping a green stick off a scrubby bush and poking his bread with it. Quietly, he walked up to the fire, not too close to anyone else, and worked on toasting his bread.
He stared into the fire, thoughts wandering down well worn paths. Where would he sleep? How would he get his next meal? What was Sc-
He tensed, bringing his bread in to check it, desperate for a distraction. Still more stale than toasted.
He put it back toward the fire and turned his attention to the murmuring around him. Maybe he could get a lead on a job.
"-thinks he can just leave the American people to live off dirt and air. The damn president is supposed to serve, not be served. He's not gettin' my vote again-"
"-you hear about Ford? Not near as many jobs as they make it sound. My cousin Billy went up, spent every last cent gettin' there under promise of work on the line, but they turned him away at the gate. He's just hanging around there now, waitin'. Says they're gonna let him know as soon as they're hiring again, but you tell me who's gonna buy the cars they're building-"
" -nothing but dust and dirt and more dust. No one's paying for wheat or beef, and that's where they always said the money would be, didn't they?-"
No matter where he went the conversations were always the same. Dust, money, and Hoover.
"-heard the Red Cross won't be back for another two weeks-"
"-out west ain't better. Nothing's better, just different bad-"
"-entire family was eaten-"
Stiles' attention caught at that last one.
"- killed every member of the pack, and of course the hunters hightailed it out of there, leaving the wendigo to do as he pleased."
Wendigo. The word rang a bell. Stiles remembered a couple weeks of work spent with an Algonquian man who'd had a memory full of stories.
Monsters. People eaters.
As a kid, Stiles would have considered it a lark, a campfire spook to spend the time.
He knew better now.
His gaze flicked involuntarily to the two men speaking across the fire. His first thought was that they were handsome, and his next was that they were interesting. Both were thoughts that could get him killed. Two pairs of eyes suddenly pierced him above the flames. Stiles automatically looked down, busying himself with pulling his bread back to check it. Still not toasted. He snuck another look across the fire. The blue eyed man was still staring at him while the green eyed one muttered quietly to him.
Maybe it was toasted enough after all.
He tossed his stick into the fire and picked up his bundle, quickly walking away from the fire. He could feel eyes on him as he left, the gaze so heavy that it seemed to last well past the line of sight.
Eventually he found an empty patch of dirt where he could lay for the night.
Home sweet home.
He finished eating his bread. His stomach still rumbled for more, but Stiles had practice at ignoring it. Instead he lay down and stared up at the stars.
Worries gnawed at him like the hunger, but Stiles didn't know how to ignore that quite as well yet. Work, money, shelter, food... Stiles usually felt a little less jittery after using his more esoteric talents, but something about the men at the fire had unsettled him. Specifically the one looking at him.
He wasn't sure if he should be more worried about what they were talking about, or the fact that they seemed to know he'd overheard, or that the pair of blue eyes clearly suspected that he'd understood what he heard.
Tiredness ached through his bones, unhelped by the hard ground. Worries chased each other like a circle of yapping dogs, too stupid to know when the race was done. The stars twinkled.
Stiles fell asleep to the crackling of fires and the whistling of wind.
He awoke when it was still dark. His eyes were closed, but there was no sunlight behind his lids. He kept them closed.
He was being watched.
The gaze on him was piercing and heavy. His gut clenched as the blue eyes from before came to mind. Cold night air cut across his face in contrast with the warm tingle he could feel coming over his hand, a reflexive defense. He lay perfectly still for an endless time in the dark.
When he finally opened his eyes, no one was there. The weight of the gaze lingered like a bad dream.
The next morning Stiles got up and went into the town proper. He avoided the work office, knowing there wouldn't be anything for a drifter there when there wasn't even enough for the locals.
Instead he headed to the hardware and feed store. Of course he didn't have any money to spend, but he lingered just outside, stopping folks on their way out to ask if they needed some help.
Eventually a mother passing by gave him a long look and told him to follow her. She had a shed that needed mending.
"Can't pay you any money, mind, but I have some winter beef left and I'll give you a good meal," she said brusquely as they headed toward the residences. Stiles nodded in gratitude, and followed her home.
The shed was far from the hardest work he'd ever done, and there were two kids running around the dirt lot, playing tag and asking him questions that he had too much fun answering.
"Where are you from?"
"The North Pole."
"Santa lives on the other side of town, I grew up in the polar bear neighborhood."
"You grew up with bears? We just have rabbits. Daddy calls them 'Damned Rabbits' but momma says that's not actually their name."
"Your momma sounds like a smart lady."
"She's the smartest!"
It certainly wasn't the worst day Stiles had ever spent, and the woman let him take a roast sandwich with him after dinner too.
When Stiles got back to the tents, he found a shelter strung up where he'd slept the night before. He sighed, and started wandering around again, looking for a new spot. He stuck to the edges, trying to strike a balance of not too close and not too far. Too close meant people looking, and too far meant greater chance of coyotes. Stiles could handle coyotes, but he'd prefer not to, and more than that he'd prefer not to take the chance of someone else seeing him handling the coyotes.
There seemed to be even less spots than there were the previous night. Another train must've come in. Eventually he found a little empty patch on the far end of the camp. It was closer to a tent than he would've liked, but judging by the clothes strung up outside, it was just bachelors staying there. Could've been bachelors or Confirmed Bachelors, and in either case, Stiles thought they'd make passable neighbors.
As he ate his sandwich, the winds kicked up a little. He could feel the shiver of tension run through the camp, everyone wondering if it would turn into a duster. And if it was a duster, how bad would it be? Would the tents be lost? Who would suffocate to death, choking on lungs full of dirt? Because someone would. Someone always did.
Thankfully, the wind died back down, and slowly the tension released from camp. Just regular prairie winds.
Stiles finished his sandwich, ignoring the grit that had already gotten into it during its brief exposure as it was eaten. He dusted off his hands, and wondered where he'd be able to steal a bath around here.
Before he could make steps to that, however, a sound caught his ears. A guitar. Some slow picking, mellowing into a strum. Stiles looked around, and stiffened when he realized it was coming from the tent next to him. He hadn't even heard anyone arrive, much less putter around. He turned to look at the tent dead on, and stilled.
It was the men from the fire last night.
Of course the tent belonged to those two. Stiles' life was just like that.
The green eyed one glowered at his laundry, and Stiles wondered what crimes it'd committed to deserve such a dirty look. There was enough dirt to go around already. Seemed excessive to add to it that way.
The music was coming from the man who'd looked at him last night. He wasn't looking now, eyes focused on a midpoint halfway between the ground and his guitar.
Stiles stood silently for a minute, trying to decide if he should gather up his things and find a new spot, or if that would make him more suspicious.
Stiles snapped his head up, eyes sharp, feet ready to run.
"You play?" The blue eyed man gestured to the guitar he held. Stiles leaned back a little, surprised into politeness at the question.
"No sir. Played piano with my mama before she passed, but that's been a lifetime ago."
"A whole lifetime, huh?" The man seemed amused. "I guess we're all living a lifetime out here. Come on over and talk. My name's Peter. That's my nephew Derek. Don't mind his face, it's just like that."
The other man's scowl deepened, this time joined by a heavy roll of his eyes. Stiles couldn't help being amused.
"My name's Stiles," he offered, taking a few steps closer, but stopping just short of entering their space. "I don't wanna invade your camp. You don't have to worry about me, I don't stick around for long-"
"It's not an invasion if you're invited in," Peter said, a hint of exasperation in his tone. "We could all use company. Come on over and we can swap stories."
Stiles still hesitated. Peter's eyes narrowed, and then his eyebrows raised in challenge. Stiles clenched his teeth and stepped forward, coming just close enough for conversation. Peter watched him settle on a crate someone had abandoned at one point or another, only looking away when he seemed sure that Stiles was staying for now.
"Where're you from?" he asked, going back to softly picking the guitar.
"Just about everywhere at this point," was Stiles' standard answer. Peter's mouth quirked up in a little smile, as if he'd expected such an answer. Stiles felt both disgruntled that he was being read so easily, and scared of what Peter was finding.
"Then why don't you tell me where your mama's piano lived?" Peter followed up casually. Stiles huffed.
Peter's eyebrows raised at that, apparently finally surprised.
"You certainly don't talk like you're from Brooklyn."
"That's why I didn't say I'm from Brooklyn. I was born in Poland, brought over to as a babe to Brooklyn, went to Boston for a minute, then Detroit, then Chicago, then back down to Saint Louis until I was fourteen. Since then I've been chasing work. Just about everywhere," Stiles finished with a sweeping hand gesture.
"Yeah, I suppose that's just about right. Derek and I are from New York."
Stiles nodded, expecting that from the way he talked. It was his turn to push the conversation along, but he couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't hey, what was that about a wendigo that ate an entire family? From the relaxed way Peter continued to play his guitar, with the hint of a bastard smile hiding in his mouth, Stiles thought he might know.
Eventually he cleared his throat and asked, "You fellas know anything about where a man could get a wash?"
Derek grunted an affirmative.
"There's a little creek north of here."
Stiles absently worried on his lip for a moment as he tried to picture the town map he'd seen earlier.
"North past the Tilly farm?"
Derek shook his head, and opened his mouth to explain further only to be cut off by Peter.
"Why don't I just show you?" he said smoothly, setting down the guitar in a beaten case by his feet. "I could do with a wash, after all."
Stiles caught an odd look passed between the two men. He couldn't make sense of it. Couldn't make sense of anything these two did, actually. Did they see Stiles as a danger? Were they toying with him? Were they just trying to find out exactly what he knew?
There was only one way to find out.
"Well," he said after his long beat of thought. "Sure."
"Just a little further up here," Peter said, hands in his pockets as he walked.
So far, it had been a surprisingly companionable, if mostly quiet walk. Stiles noticed Peter looking at him perhaps a little more often than normal. Noticed it because he was looking right back.
He couldn't say whether their reasons for looking were the same, but he wasn't going to ask either.
"So you came in on the train?" Peter asked.
"How'd you end up in the Hooverville then? Spend your last checker on the ticket?"
"Said I came on the train, not that I had cash for a ticket," Stiles said with a shrug. It was a common enough offense. The idea of another Hooverville resident turning him in for it seemed absurd.
Peter's smile came back, just a little.
“A rule breaker, huh? A regular criminal.”
Stiles looked at him dryly.
"Yeah, that's me. Bonnie and Clyde's bastard child."
Peter threw back his head and laughed. Stiles' gaze caught on the column of his throat and stuck there, mouth even drier than what the dusty air could account for. He managed to tear his eyes away just in time to catch the knowing look on Peter's face.
"Is that a little tree up there?" Stiles asked, staunchly looking forward, determined to not give the other man a chance to comment.
Clearly still amused, Peter hummed an affirmative.
"It’s a not-quite-dead-yet tree, thanks to a trickle of the creek at its feet. Should be enough to get both of us clean."
As soon as they reached the bank, Peter started stripping off his clothes. Stiles walked a few paces further down, determined not to be accused of anything, no matter how funny Peter seemed to find it. He slid his suspenders off his shoulders and unbuttoned his shirt before pulling a little sliver of soap from his trouser pocket to quickly wash his clothes. Once that was taken care of, he lay them out on the bank to dry.
Looking firmly downstream, away from his companion, Stiles started to scrub himself in the eight or so inches of water provided by the creek.
Sometimes it felt as if the dust and grit had been ground into his skin, so deep that it burrowed all the way to bone. As if he'd never be completely clean again. Sometimes he wondered if he'd ever been clean to begin with. Babes come into the world covered in blood and original sin, if the Catholics are to be believed-
"Watch out for those slippery rocks," Peter called, catching Stiles mid-thought and pulling his attention around.
As soon as Stiles threw a glance in his direction, he was ensnared.
He'd seen his share of men's bodies. Even accounting for his proclivities, there wasn't much privacy to be had in the poorest places on Earth. Shared living usually meant shared washing, and it definitely meant shared dressing.
Throw in the time Stiles had spent behind Pansy Clubs, learning a thing or five about himself, and well. Yeah, Stiles knew about all the shapes you could find on a man's body.
But Peter? This stranger with the strange bright eyes and even stranger stories- he had a body that would make angels weep. He lacked the too-lean look that most men shared these days, including Stiles. Perfect planes, muscled in a way that he hadn't seen since the food started disappearing. A strong neck led to broad shoulders, following a line down to his soaped abdomen and firm thighs.
Stiles kissed any lingering breath of shame goodbye, and easily slid his eyes to the space between Peter’s legs.
He looked absolutely mouthwatering.
By the time Stiles dragged his eyes back up to Peter's face, he was smirking.
"See something you like?" he purred.
Maybe Peter's motivations had been something entirely unexpected after all. It was a clear invitation, and an earnest one at that. Still, Stiles hesitated. He weighed the unsure motivations of this bright eyed stranger against the rarity of opportunities like this.
It actually wasn't much of a contest.
"That depends," he drawled.
"On what?" Peter asked, eyes knowing.
"What's on the menu? Do I get a taste first?" He gave Peter a slower up-and-down. "Wouldn't want to order a whole meal without knowing what I'm getting."
A challenge lit in Peter's eyes, and the next thing Stiles knew, a hand had been hooked around the back of his neck, pulling him forward into a voracious kiss. The press was almost bruising until he parted his lips, dipping into Stiles' mouth.
Stiles hungrily reciprocated, now that he knew his advances wouldn't be met with a call to the police, and aligned his body with the hard lines of this stranger's, rolling his hips slightly to feel more. Peter moved his hand from Stiles' neck up to his wet hair, getting a grip to pull firmly backwards. Stiles moaned when Peter's lips moved from his mouth to his neck, gracing him with a sharp scrape of teeth.
Peter rumbled, a low rough sound that stoked the fire already burning in Stiles' belly. Stiles couldn't have quite said how he knew it, but the sound was clearly pleased. He finally remembered his own hands after a moment of being lost in the bite on his throat, and brought them up to feel all over Peter's back. He felt another nip of teeth on his collarbone, quickly soothed by a tongue, and his fingers spasmed, digging into Peter's muscle.
"God, you're fucking delicious." Stiles felt more than heard the words murmured against his skin, where Peter seemed to be tasting his entire body with tongue, lips, and hands. He suddenly remembered the unnaturally bright eyes, and wondered if he should be concerned about exactly how delicious this stranger found him.
Then Peter dropped to his knees in the water, and Stiles figured he could worry about it later.
The humid heat that enveloped his cock took Stiles by surprise, startling a deep moan from him as his hand automatically went to Peter's hair. Peter rumbled around the cock in his mouth, and the vibrations made Stiles reflexively gasp before Peter even began to move. The slick heat of his mouth was heaven, and for a moment he simply sank into the sensation.
Peter started to move then, bobbing up and down, spiking pleasure with every pass. Stiles took a gamble and gripped his hair tighter, thrilled when Peter moaned and redoubled his efforts in response. A tongue licking just inside his foreskin make him shudder. Stiles turned his face up to the open sky, feeling as if he were flying through the air completely alone.
The grip of two hands around the backs of his thighs disrupted that feeling, bringing him abruptly back to Peter and the near claustrophobic closeness of his body to Stiles' lower half. He almost stumbled back a step, until Peter stopped him by taking his cock deeper into his throat. Stiles gripped his hair again, and lightly rocked into Peter's mouth. At Peter's encouragement, he rocked again, a little deeper, and then deeper again, until he was fucking Peter's throat. The tight suction around him was wicked in its grip, pulling Stiles into a rhythm of thrusting and chasing. It was too much, but when he tried to pull out, Peter gripped the backs of his thighs tighter. A moment later he came down Peter's throat, sparks behind his eyes.
Peter pulled back as Stiles panted for air, hissing when his cock fell from the warm bed of Peter's mouth. Peter hummed, a rough, satisfied sound that made Stiles want to see what other sounds he could draw from him.
He allowed his jellied knees to fold, bringing him to a kneel in front of Peter, water rushing around the two of them, and took hold of his gorgeous dick. Peter's eyes fell to half mast, watching Stiles' movements until he couldn't seem to keep to himself anymore. As Stiles' hand moved up and down, finding the grip and speed that drew the most sounds from Peter, Peter leaned forward to grip his arms and kiss down his chest, sucking and biting as he went.
Stiles brought his other hand up underneath Peter's cock, rolling the balls gently and gradually speeding up his strokes as he pressed two fingers to the skin behind them. He tightened the ring of his fingers slightly as Peter fucked into them, putting a little more pressure on the underside, knowing he was sending sparks through the beautiful body kneeling in front of him. Peter's fingers abruptly dug in deeper, and Stiles would swear his bite got sharper, and then he moaned as heat covered Stiles' hand.
Slowly, he gentled his strokes until it became too much for Peter, and then he released him. Idly, he rinsed his hand off in the creek as he watched Peter come down from his high with self-satisfaction. Peter's face was tipped to the sun, eyes closed for a moment, but when he looked back at Stiles, his gaze was as piercing as ever.
Stiles leaned back.
Peter's hands fell away.
"I'm just gonna-" Stiles jerked his thumb over the scrubby little tree. "Go dry off."
He glanced in the direction of his clothes, but certainly didn't want to put wet clothes back on a wet body. With a little sigh, he went to sit under the tree.
Peter followed, sitting closely next to him. Stiles looked at him sideways, and then stretched out to lay down, putting space between them.
So Peter laid down too. Then he turned on his side, bringing himself even a little nearer.
"You have a real problem with closeness, don't you?" he asked, enough humor in his voice to rankle Stiles. Contrarily, Stiles turned on his side too, bringing their faces lover-close.
"I'd say we were just about as close as two fellas can get just now," he drawled, unable to stop his eyes from scanning lazily over Peter's handsome features.
"There are ways to be closer. Physically and otherwise. I barely know anything about you," Peter said, voice slowly getting quieter in deference to their proximity.
"You know more about me than anyone else in that camp. Or anyone else in the state, for that matter." Stiles' hands itched to touch again as he answered. He tightened them into fists instead.
Peter hummed consideringly.
"I suppose. And I suppose you know more about me than anyone else in the camp too, save my nephew."
His eyes flared candle bright again, and Stiles breathed in a startled breath.
They were even more beautiful up close.
Stiles looked down.
"Don't be like that, sweetheart. Aren't you curious?" Peter murmured.
"No," Stiles lied.
"You wanna try that answer again?"
Stiles pulled back and sat up facing forward, bare back to Peter, splitting the warm space between them.
"Look, everyone's got their secrets. You have yours and I have mine, and the less secrets we have the carry the less likely it is that we'll accidentally spill one, alright?"
The silence between them sat heavily for a long moment, until Peter spoke with a low voice.
"Who spilled your secrets, darling?"
Stiles just shook his head.
"It doesn't matter."
"I think it does, if it's keeping you isolated. People like us- we don't have much, but we do have each other." Peter went quiet, and Stiles could hear the hesitation in his voice before he said, "Pack is the only thing we ever really have."
Damn it. The word revealed more than Stiles wanted to see, but it wasn't like he could give it back.
"Everyone knows just how much money and food don't stay, these days," Peter continued despite Stiles' silence. "The only guarantee is your people."
Stiles snorted derisively.
"People aren't any guarantee at all. People lie, people cheat, people die. You really expect to be able to hold on to people?"
Peter sat up next to him, shoulder to shoulder now, but Stiles didn't give him a chance to talk.
"You wanna know who spilled? My best friend. We were practically brothers. He was all I had, because my mama took her last trip to the sanitorium when I was ten, and my dad left Illinois in a Chicago overcoat two years later. But I got lucky, you know? Not every kid has someone to take 'em in. I got lucky. I thought I was lucky."
Stiles went silent for a beat, and when he spoke again, the bitterness in his voice was a well of poison.
"He spilled it to a dame, who gave it to her granddad, who makes trophies out of people like us."
"Sure, if that's the word. He was some kind of awful." He took a deep breath. "It was an accident. I know it was. Scott didn't know what would happen. But I had to go. I kept writing him for a while, but- people are no guarantee, Peter."
Peter was silent for a long moment- long enough that Stiles considered getting dressed again. Before he could get up though, Peter spoke.
"Maybe they were just people; not your people. You should keep looking for your people, Stiles. Keep looking for your pack."
Stiles shook his head slightly, but didn't say anything, and got up to get dressed.
By the time they reached the tent city again, it was nearly full dark. The fires were lighting up here and there again, preemptively getting ready to chase away the coming chill of the night. Something about the wind told Stiles it would be a cold one. With a sigh, he dug out his tarp and strung up a low cover, something to keep his body heat close.
Peter hadn't said a word on their trip back, but he couldn't seem to keep to himself with the sight of that.
"Are you really planning to sleep in that?" he called over. "You might as well be sheltering in a feed sack."
Stiles shot him a dirty look, suspecting that he'd be able to see it perfectly fine despite the dark.
"It's warmer than sleeping in the open air."
“Not as good as sleeping in a tent,” Peter called back.
“Yeah well bully for you, but I don’t have one,” Stiles grumbled. “It’s this or the open air.”
“I’m saying there’s room for three in here, you beautiful moron,” Peter said, exasperatedly gesturing into the tent.
Stiles stilled, looking over through the dim light of distant fires.
"... Does your nephew think there's room for three?"
A grunt came from within the tent, one that honestly could have meant anything, but Peter seemed to take it as positive affirmation.
"See? He's fine with it. Come on, Stiles, I don't want to have to thaw you out in the morning."
Stiles gave him a dry look.
"You could just leave me frozen. Then you could extend your camp into my area."
"If you're frozen then you won't ever be able to admit I'm right about your problem."
"I won't even do that unfrozen."
"Get in the tent, Stiles."
Stiles looked back at his tarp, and then at the tent again. He put away the tarp.
As he stepped inside, he realized that yes, the tent was big enough for three- but just barely. Derek was already scooting his bedroll further to one side to make room for Stiles on the other, with Peter already climbing between them.
Stiles laid his roll out and immediately tucked himself under the blanket, determinedly closing his eyes. Not that that deterred Peter.
“So did you lose your tent or have you never had one?”
Stiles rolled his eyes beneath his lids.
“Never had one.”
“Winters in Saint Louis are awfully cold to be without a tent.”
“Must be why I’m so tired now.”
"Hm. You didn't lose any fingers to frostbite though, because you had all ten wrapped around my-"
"Peter," Derek's voice growled, muffled from where he was tucked into his coverings.
Stiles tensed, but Peter just chuckled.
"Is something wrong, nephew?"
Stiles heard Derek roll over, and though he couldn't see it in the dark tent, he could feel the weight of the glare he was giving Peter.
"For God's sake, you're my uncle. The less I know about what you get touched and how many fingers are doing the touching, the better. Quiet down and let me sleep." With another aggravated huff, he rolled back over.
Stiles let out a slow breath he'd been holding, and glanced in the direction of Peter.
"He..." Stiles hesitantly whispered after a moment. "Will he go to the police?"
Peter chuckled again, quietly this time.
"Derek? No. Our family isn't too worried about ridiculous human laws."
Stiles blew out a quiet burst of breath, reaching up to rub his eyes. The casual trust that Peter was exhibiting made him so uneasy. He trusted Stiles with an open admission that he wasn't human, he trusted their acquaintance enough to invite him to sleep in their tent, he trusted his nephew not to go to the police to turn him in for sodomy- Stiles hadn't even told Scott about that part of himself.
He lowered his hands with a sigh.
Maybe Peter was right.
Maybe Scott hadn't ever been his people to begin with.
Maybe he'd never had people.
And if that was true, how could he ever expect to?
The next morning, Stiles woke up earlier than usual, his dreams broken by the sounds of unfamiliar breathing. He was disoriented for a moment, held still by fear until he remembered the night before. Silently, he emptied his lungs in relief and began to slowly gather his bedroll. Peter stirred for a moment, and Stiles stood frozen, waiting to see if he would open his eyes and begin teasing him more- but he just rolled over and continued sleeping.
Stiles told himself he wasn't disappointed.
As soon as he got out of the tent, he took his bundle and started heading for the train yard.
Usually he would hang around a new town for a few weeks, or at the very least a few days, but he had to get away from here.
He had to get away from Peter.
It almost made him angry, how unsettled he was by the man. What right did he have to pass along the weight of his own secrets like that? What obligation did Stiles have to carry them for him?
Why did it make Stiles' throat tight to be given trust like that?
Stiles sternly shook his head at himself, and tried to direct his thoughts forward as he walked. The next town was a full day's train ride, and he had nothing to eat. He'd refilled his water flask, but normally he would've taken more time to prepare-
Stiles took off running on instinct, even before he heard the whistle of the trainyard guard. He darted over tracks and between unmoving cars, muttering "Fuck fuck fuck" under his breath. The crunch of gravel under his pursuer's feet was slightly slower than his own. He could probably outrun him-
The crack of a gunshot cut off that thought, igniting panic in Stiles' chest. He ducked behind another boxcar and then threw himself sideways between dunes of prairie dirt, heart pounding in his ribs, his hands crackling with energy as he hid.
He heard the hesitation of the yardman's feet after he rounded the boxcar, could sense the eyes digging in every direction.
"Get out here, you worthless bum! Stand up to me like a man!"
Yeah, a real man like you, ready to shoot someone for the infraction of trying to find work, Stiles thought with a bitter scoff.
The footsteps came closer. Really, there were only so many places he could have hidden, and the guard probably wasn't a complete idiot. Stiles braced himself. When the steps sounded close enough to touch, he threw himself out from behind the dune, hands leading.
He grabbed the yardman's wrist, sending a strong enough shock down his arm to make him drop the gun, and then brought an elbow up, crashing it into his nose. Blood immediately streamed from his face, but he clearly wasn't ready to go down yet, because he pulled out a baton next. Stiles grimaced, but noted with relief that it was made of metal.
Building up a charge in his hand took seconds, but getting it close enough to the metal to shock the guard was another problem. He seemed to cotton on that Stiles actually wanted to touch it for some reason, and was doing his damndest to hit him somewhere Stiles' hands couldn't reach.
Stiles let out a frustrated yell as it evaded his touch for the third time, only to be astonished when a much deeper growl came from behind the guard.
A hulking creature with cruel looking claws and sharp teeth stalked toward them, eyes on the guard. He wasn't human, but not entirely beast either.
His blue eyes glowed.
Before Stiles could say anything, the growling creature grabbed the guard by the throat, fully distracting him. Seeing his chance, Stiles deftly wrapped a hand around the baton, and sent a violent shock through the guard, putting much more force in it this time.
The yardman yelped and then crumpled, abruptly dropped from the grasp of the creature.
"Ouch! That hurt!" he growled, shaking out his hand and glaring at Stiles. Stiles glared right back.
"That's what you get for stalking me."
"I was saving you!"
Stiles rolled his eyes.
"Sure, if that's how you want to see it." He side eyed the guard. "Is he still breathing?"
Peter paused, listening for a moment.
"Yes, he's still alive."
Stiles nodded shortly, a hint of relief in his face.
"Well, if you're here to save me, then why don't you save me from having to lug his body around. You can help me get him someplace else." He tapped his foot once as he thought. "Maybe someplace with enough booze to explain his current state of blackout."
They managed to drop him behind the railway storehouse, near a dumpster filled with bottles. Stiles knew from past experience that there was about a fifty-fifty chance of him remembering what happened, but he hoped the environmental suggestion would sway things in his favor.
As soon as the guard was taken care of, he nodded once at Peter and then turned on his heel, heading back to the trainyard.
"Hey, wait!" Peter called.
"Nope," Stiles said shortly without looking back. He heard footsteps running toward him and sighed when Peter caught up. "Look, I was ready to go this morning, but now with that guy?" He jerked his thumb behind them. "I have to go. If he sees me and remembers..."
"You just rode in the day before yesterday!"
"And now I'm riding out."
"Are you honestly really that scared of knowing someone?" Peter asked incredulously. "Of knowing someone who might understand you?" Stiles grit his teeth and kept moving without answering.
But then, Peter said the only thing that could possibly make him hesitate.
"You know, I came looking for you because I found a job."
Stiles' steps stuttered, and then paused. Peter swung around to stand in front of him, looking him in the face and blocking his path.
"It's for two men. Derek and I took it, but then a minute later Derek was offered better paying work on a different ranch. I need someone else to come with me."
Stiles bit his lip, and this time he was close enough to notice Peter's eyes immediately flick down to them. He watched him lick his own before continuing.
"They're paying three dollars a day. Say to expect a week of work."
Stiles' eyes widened. He hadn't been paid that much in years. If Peter wasn't lying, then this was the best opportunity on this side of the Texas-Oklahoma border. If he stayed, he ran the risk of being recognized by the yardman, but if he left... there was no guarantee of work like this.
Peter was still staring at his mouth.
"Hey." Stiles snapped his fingers to get his attention. "Who's making the offer?"
Peter shot a disapproving look at the hand that had snapped, but answered.
"Brewster. Apparently not all of his trees and cattle are dead yet, but his fences have taken massive hits during the last few dusters. His men are already spread thin for the work as it is, so he wants to bring on a couple of temporary workers just for the fences."
Stiles thought he could remember hearing something to that effect outside the hardware store. He'd assumed Brewster would hire locals, but if Peter already had the offer...
"Yeah, I'll do it."
"You know, we'll be out in the fields alone together all week..." he said, tone leading. "Not a pair of prying eyes for miles."
Stiles rolled his eyes.
He also didn't say no.
When they arrived at the orchard, Brewster took one look at Stiles and asked where the "Big Guy" had gone.
"The Tilly ranch needed a hand who understands Spanish, and were willing to pay better for it. Derek headed that direction instead, so Stiles here agreed to fill in," Peter answered smoothly.
Brewster huffed, assessing Stiles critically for a moment.
"Fine," he said eventually. "Fences can't wait another day anyway. You two'll be sleeping in the bunkhouse for the week. You're on your own after the fences are done. Meals happen when most of the men are back, which usually happens an hour before sundown. No horses for you to ride, so you'll be doin' a lot of walking. Here's a map with the holes marked, it's the only one so don't lose it. All the supplies you need are in the barn."
Stiles and Peter took his sudden silence for the dismissal it was, and nodded respectfully at him before leaving.
They dropped their bindles and bedrolls in the bunkhouse, and then headed next door to the barn and got to work.
Brewster hadn't been joking about the walking. It left Peter with entirely too much time to talk.
"So. You're a spark?"
"Why would I tell you?"
"Well, I already saw what you can do. And you know I'm a werewolf-"
"I didn't know that," Stiles cut in. He'd guessed, but he hadn't known. Now thanks to Peter, he couldn't unknow.
Peter waved an uncaring hand.
"I knew there was something different about you. Something other, in the way that I'm other. The way that my pack is other."
"How do you manage to keep away from those- hunters? The ones who collect our deaths?" Stiles asked, both frustrated and legitimately curious. "How do you stay away from them if you're so goddamn cavalier with your secrets?"
"I'm not cavalier," Peter scoffed. "I don't tell everyone. I'm only open with you because I want you, Stiles."
Stiles stumbled, shocked at the openness of the statement. Peter gave him a grin, clearly pleased at having knocked him off balance.
"Like I said, I knew there was something different about you as soon as I saw you across the fire. Derek wasn't as sure until he got a whiff of your scent, but then he agreed with me. You're... I don't know quite how to describe it, but you're-" he paused, and grinned once more. "You're electric, Stiles."
"Oh fuck off," Stiles shot back, rubbing an exasperated hand down his face. "So I smell like a powerline. Do you go around recruiting every weird smelling man?"
"Oh no. No, I decided I wanted you once I got a better look at your delicious body, and the way you smell when you look at mine," Peter continued, not quite enough of a leer in his tone to counter his obvious honesty. "I decided I wanted you when you declared yourself the bastard child of Bonnie of Clyde. I want your difference, your cleverness, and your beautiful face. I want your secrets. And the surest way to get that from you, I think, is by giving you mine."
Stiles was stunned into silence.
It had been a long time since he was wanted for something other than the labor he could provide.
They walked in silence for the rest of the way to the fence.
They mended two moderately sized holes that first day, and three smaller ones the next. In between, they found themselves in close quarters with the workers, who treated them with varying levels of interest and indifference.
The older ones simply ate and slept, too weary to care about a new pair of hands unless they were stealing. The younger, however, took note of Peter's New York accent with excitement, and immediately bombarded Peter with questions about what it was like in the biggest of the apples.
"The only space that exists goes upward," he said, drawing their attention with his hands as he gestured with his words. "Everything's up against each other, crowded in a way that Texas can't be. You can always find a show or a party, so long as you've got the money."
The young men, some barely out of childhood, listened to his stories raptly, enchanted by an alien world they'd likely never see. Stiles laid back on the thin mattress of his bunk, and listened.
He realized that Peter knew exactly how to talk. He spoke in broad stripes that made his audience feel as if they knew him, without actually revealing anything personal about himself. He was from New York City, yes, but he never mentioned where in the seven million he could be found. He mentioned going out with his gang, but never who that gang might be. He spoke of a preference for film shows over theatre shows, but never said what he'd seen or where he'd seen it, or even why he had that preference.
I'm only open with you because I want you, Stiles.
It took him a long time to find sleep that night.
By their fourth day, they'd mended all the holes closest to the barn. There were three left, all on the furthest side of the property, so they took their bedrolls, food and water, and all the supplies they'd need, and started walking with the intent to stay out there until the job was finished.
Peter talked as they walked. Of course. Stiles suspected that he talked so much only to make a point of how Stiles didn't.
By the time they reached the fence line, the sun was close enough to the horizon to make work pointless. Instead they built a little fire and cooked up a stew they'd brought with them from the bunkhouse, both of them reveling in having enough food to fill their stomachs.
Stiles watched with amusement as Peter picked through his bowl to eat the chunks of rabbit meat first. His amusement only grew when Peter started side eyeing Stiles' bowl. He deliberately ate the roots first, hoping to tempt Peter into action.
A sharp claw darted into his bowl, spearing through two chunks before being whisked away and into Peter's mouth. He gave Stiles a shit eating, triumphant grin as he chewed, scooting out of reach around the fire.
Stiles didn't bother trying to get closer to him. Instead, he picked up the ball of tin foil the meat had been carried in, and held it for a second before tossing it at him. Peter reflexively reached out to bat it away, realizing at the last second what a bad idea that was, but it was too late. His hand connected with the ball, zapping him with with a shock strong enough to draw a indignant yelp.
"Rude!" Peter declared over the sound of Stiles' laughter, sticking a still-tingling finger in his mouth to soothe the shock.
The sight of this broad, muscled, fully grown man with a finger in his mouth was too much for Stiles. He laughed even harder, accidentally knocking his bowl over as he gasped for breath.
"You little reprobate," Peter growled, tone playful. The next thing he knew, Stiles had been tackled to the ground, held down by Peter's bulk. He realized for the first time just exactly how strong Peter was; an immovable force on top of him. Apparently being a werewolf came with more than teeth and claws.
Two could play at that game.
Rather than struggle, Stiles put a hand up to one of the elbows caging him in, and tazed it just enough to make it collapse. The shock on Peter's face was comical, and his surprise lasted long enough for Stiles to get a leg up over his hip and flip him over, ending with Peter on his back and Stiles straddling him.
Stiles looked down with a raised eyebrow.
Stiles unsuccessfully tried to bite back his own.
Their dance began.
Peter swung up, grabbing Stiles by the waist, clearly intending to get him on his back- only for Stiles to twist out of his grasp, spinning away on his knees and coming up to a crouch with a wild laugh. Peter launched himself at him again, in the same move as before, but Stiles was prepared this time. As soon as Peter tried to cage him in, Stiles shocked the muscles of his elbow, weakening them just long enough to roll out from under him. Peter tried to lunge after him but missed, landing face first on the ground with a grunt. Stiles took advantage of the moment, straddling his lower back and leaning down to whisper in his ear, "I spent six months roping horses last year. You don't think you're tougher than that, do you?"
Peter gave a low growl, a primal sound of danger, and Stiles laughed.
Living was danger. The danger of a slow death by starvation, the danger of trusting the wrong people, the danger of being hunted for the audacity of trying to survive.
The danger that Peter brought was invigorating in comparison. Stiles wanted it. He'd never felt so greedy in his life, God he wanted.
He paid for his moment of distraction when Peter reached behind himself to grab Stiles, yanking him off and pulling him to the dirt beside him, pinning him in place with a searing kiss this time instead of any kind of force.
It worked like a charm.
Stiles licked into his mouth at the first opportunity, using one hand to grab his waist to bring him closer, while his other pushed up into Peter's hair.
Peter gave a little growl and nipped his lip, shoving his hand up Stiles' shirt to slide it off. His own was cast to the side a moment later, and the trousers joined them both as soon as they could get a bedroll halfway laid out.
Peter was just as beautiful as Stiles remembered. He'd never actually been with the same man twice. It was a novelty to already know how to play the body in front of him. He remembered that Peter liked having his hair pulled, and got to devour the delicious sounds he made one more time. He remembered the sensitive spot on the underside of his cock, where Stiles could rub a thumb and feel Peter shudder all over. He remembered that Peter liked to bite.
It was a level of familiarity he'd never known.
Their fingers intertwined as they wrapped around both of their cocks, fucking into their combined fists and stroking in tandem. Their bodies were close, so close that Stiles could taste his sweat, so close that the heat of the fire was less than the heat of each other. Peter's movements became predictable, the slide of his cock against Stiles' becoming something more pleasurable for the anticipated rhythm.
And then Peter bit the same spot on his neck that he'd bitten before, harder than the last time. Something he'd remembered.
Peter followed moments later, his fist speeding up until his own come joined Stiles'. They both lay there for a moment, getting their breath back, letting their sweat cool.
Stiles thought of a million things to say.
He couldn't speak.
Eventually, Peter tilted Stiles' face to his own and pressed a soft kiss to his lips, before pulling back to look in his eyes.
"I'm not sleeping on a come-covered bedroll, so you'd better be good for a snuggle in yours."
Stiles snorted a helpless laugh.
"Yeah. We can make do."
The next morning they woke up and got to work, fixing up two of three holes until it got too dark to work, and then settling in for another night shared between themselves and the stars.
However, sometime during their second night, the stars took their leave to be replaced by clouds. They looked innocent enough early on, but the longer the day went, the darker they got.
Clouds like these were a cruel game to anyone who read the sky. Clouds could mean rain. They needed rain, badly. Everyone did. Needed it so badly that people were willing to pay snake oil salesmen for a fool's hope if they couldn't come up with one on their own.
Clouds like these could also mean a dust storm.
They moved more quickly than they had the day before, getting the last hold mended before packing up and starting the trek back to the bunkhouse. They didn't even make it a mile before Stiles saw it.
A wall of black dirt. It rose up from the horizon, like the judgement of God.
Unstoppable. Ruthless. Unyielding.
Out in the field where they were, there was nowhere to take shelter, not even a damn ditch. They would be suffocated and buried within thirty minutes. Stiles could see the dread and fear in Peter's eyes as he looked from the dust storm to Stiles. Stiles clenched his jaw, and grabbed Peter's arms tightly.
"Get on the ground with me and hold tight, and whatever you do, don't let go," he said, having to yell over the already increasing wind. "I'm serious Peter, don't let go. Forget the dust, if you let go of me, you'll be electrocuted to death before the wind even gets a chance, werewolf or not."
Peter's eyes widened but he nodded, and his hands found Stiles' arms, fingers digging in nearly to the point of pain.
Stiles focused then. He'd done this before. Never with another person, but hopefully as long as Peter was grounded to Stiles-
The static built slowly at first, and then swept up, gathering around the two of them like a shield.
A minute later the storm hit.
Peter was breathing quickly but he didn't say a word, watching as the dust spread around them, swirling violently as if it had a rage to burn through- but it never entered their little bubble.
For a long time, Peter just watched. He watched Stiles, watched the concentration on his face, watched the storm rage around them. He also watched the dust and sand begin to build up around their bubble. Slowly, ever so slowly, it crept up the side, never seeping into their space, but burying them inside of it, inch by inch.
"Stiles..." he said eventually, unable to draw his eyes away from their slow internment.
"I know," Stiles said with gritted teeth. "But unless your claws can do something about it, we'll just have to wait."
The storm lasted three hours. By the end, Stiles was shaking with effort. Peter's hands began to quietly soothe the places they were touching, rubbing the trembling muscles and smoothing along taut skin. Gradually, the wind slowed and the dust fell to the ground, stationary once again, thankfully leaving an open space on the north side of their enclosure.
The dirt that had built up against the wall of their bubble wobbled, and then fell suddenly as the static shield disappeared into the air.
Stiles followed to the ground.
Peter's arms wrapped around him as he frantically manhandled him face up, checking his breathing, and sighed in relief when Stiles’ eyes fluttered half open.
"You can let go now," he mumbled to Peter, struggling to get himself upright again and scowling at his disobedient legs.
"Sure, I could," Peter said agreeably, "but it seems a little rude to leave you in the dirt after that."
Stiles scowled harder, and redoubled his efforts to get his exhausted body onto its feet. He managed to get there, and stood proudly for all of two seconds before swaying to the left. Peter caught him. Stiles sighed.
Peter ended up carrying Stiles most of the way back to the bunkhouse. Stiles would have been embarrassed, but he was too busy being unconscious. He woke up on a bed, feeling not altogether better, but at least more stable. Before his eyes could open, he felt a warm washcloth wiping his brow.
"You have dirt on your face, but I didn't want to wake you earlier."
After the cloth pulled away, Stiles held his eyes closed for another moment. He couldn't remember the last time someone had done something like that for him. It ached liked caring and intimacy; ached in a way that gripped faint memories too tightly. When he opened his eyes, it was to see Peter sitting on the edge of his bunk. The rest of the room was empty behind him.
Peter noticed him looking, and said, "One of the older men got caught in the storm too. He was coughing up enough dirt to plant a new field, so one of the boys is taking him up to the hospital in Cook County. The rest of the workers are out inspecting the damage left by the storm."
Stiles nodded, pulling himself up to a sitting position while Peter looked at him warily.
Before he could answer, they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps, and a moment later Brewster entered the room. He looked surprised to see Stiles sitting up.
"How's your breathing?" he asked.
"Clear as far as I can tell," Stiles answered. Brewster shook his head in amazement.
"It's a damn miracle. Can't believe you two were able to hide in a coyote den like that."
Stiles nodded as if the coyote den were definitely not new information.
"Yes sir, a miracle." He shot a furtive look at Peter when Brewster glanced away, but Peter just shrugged unrepentantly.
"It'd be worth it to hire you both on permanently just to get that kind of luck on our ranch-"
Stiles sat up straighter, hope uncurling from his chest.
"-it's a shame I just can't afford it. Ain't got the money or the food, to be honest."
Stiles sagged back a bit into the bed until he caught a glance of Brewsters pitying look. He clenched his jaw and sat up straighter again.
"We'll just take our weeks pay and move on, sir."
Brewster nodded, and then handed them both an envelope from his pocket.
"You boys are free to take your time heading out, but... dust got into the meal Cook had planned for tonight. There won't be any extras."
Peter and Stiles nodded in grim understanding, and Brewster left.
They sat in silence for a moment, until Stiles broke it with a small sigh.
“Time to go, then.”
He deliberately didn’t look up at Peter, or ask where he’d be going. Back to the Hooverville or over to the Tilly ranch- he tried not to wonder. It wasn’t his business. Wasn’t his secret to know.
Peter wasn’t his person.
His hands stumbled halfway through packing up his bundle of belongings, his fists clenched.
When he looked up at Peter, Peter was already staring back at him.
“I use static electricity," he said eventually, clearing his throat after. "I can just... pull it from the air. It feels a little like I'm just rearranging things that are already there. That’s... that’s what I can do."
Peter nodded, his attention fully on Stiles.
"I've met one other who worked with electricity in a similar way," he offered. "She came up with the name 'spark' on her own, so it's not an official title. If you'd rather call yourself, I don't know, static boy-"
Stiles reached out with a finger and zapped him, but before he could get away, Peter snagged his wrist and pulled him in close. Stiles looked around apprehensively, but there still wasn't a soul in sight.
"Alright, alright," Peter said, mouth moving against the hinge of Stiles' jaw. "Static man?"
Stiles could feel Peter's smile against his skin.
He zapped him again.
Peter just laughed and stole a kiss before releasing him and heading toward his own bunk to bundle up his own things.
“Back toward the Hooverville?” he asked lightly. “We can wait there for a few more days until Derek’s done at Tilly’s.” He glanced up slyly at Stiles. “We’ll have the tent to ourselves.”
He could stay a few more days.